THE Catholic Church has paid more than $25 million to Hunter child sex abuse survivors, the royal commission has heard on a day when a nun said she didn’t think the rape of a boy was a crime, and an abuse survivor told of wanting to grab knives and kill a paedophile priest when he was just 13.
“I didn’t do it. I should have,” Hunter man Gerard McDonald, 52, told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about Father Vince Ryan on the first day of the 43rd public hearing, considering church responses to child sexual abuse in Maitland-Newcastle diocese.
Shine the Light: the Newcastle Herald’s complete Royal Commission coverage
The diocese has substantiated 158 claims by survivors involving 31 perpetrators. There have been 78 claims from former students of Marist Brothers schools at Maitland and Hamilton, and St Pius X College, Adamstown. The royal commission heard 56 per cent of claims involved priests.
The diocese has paid more than $25.7 million in compensation, with one victim of Vince Ryan paid $2.9 million, and another 12 Ryan victims paid a combined $2.9 million. The Newcastle Herald is aware of many other survivors of abuse who have not reported abuse or sought compensation.
“There is a long and disturbing history of suffering by children in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle inflicted by diocesan priests and members of religious orders,” said counsel assisting the royal commission, Stephen Free, in his opening address.
The public hearing at Newcastle Courthouse will consider the case of Vince Ryan and Marist Brothers Romuald (Francis Cable), Patrick (Thomas Butler) and Dominic (Darcy O’Sullivan), who sexually abused boys over three decades.
It will hear evidence about how senior clergy, including Monsignor Patrick Cotter, and senior Marist Brothers including former principals Brother Christopher Wade and Brother Alexis Turton, responded after receiving child sex serious allegations.
Mr Free told the royal commission that Cotter reported Vince Ryan knelt at his feet, wept and admitted guilt in 1975 after Cotter was told Ryan had committed “oral and anal penetration, penis sucking and attempts at masturbation” with boys at St Joseph’s Primary School, Merewether.
Sister Evelyn Woodward, a psychologist, who reported the abuse to Cotter after it was reported to her by St Joseph’s principal, Sister Margaret-Anne Geatches, told the royal commission she did not report the matter to police because she did not think it was a crime.
Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked Sister Woodward: “You didn’t think this man’s done some terrible criminal acts and needs to be dealt with by the criminal justice system?”
She replied: “I don’t think I thought like that.”
“I think another factor was the position of women in the church at that time. We were pretty low in the pecking order, and there was a hierarchical system which I think led me to say ‘I’ve got to hand it over to whoever’s in charge of the diocese’,” Sister Woodward said.
Sister Geatches denied telling a male first-year teacher, who was horrified when boys told him of their abuse, that he was not to talk about it to the boys or their parents because it was “a church matter”.
Sister Geatches also told the royal commission she did not think the abuse was a crime.
“You understand that if you had acted in accordance with an understanding that sexual assault was a crime, Ryan’s behaviour would have come to a halt pretty quickly because he would have been dealt with by the criminal law. Do you understand that?” Justice McClellan asked her.
“Yes, yes,” Sister Geatches replied, and agreed that should have happened.
Mr McDonald wept during harrowing evidence about being sexually abused by Ryan in front of other young boys while they were altar boys for the priest, and the later suicide of one of the victims.
The priest presented a Jekyll and Hyde persona, and became a different person when he took his glasses off to sexually abuse boys, he said.
“He was no longer the friendly, charismatic priest who had played games with us and made driving in his car fun. He became intense, focused and very, very scary. I came to dread him taking his glasses off,” Mr McDonald said.
He struggled to tell of a day at the church where Ryan encouraged the altar boys to try and have sex with each other, after which Ryan attempted to have sex with him in front of the boys.
After Ryan returned from a year in Melbourne where he was sent after serious allegations, he conducted a church service at Marist Brothers, Hamilton, where McDonald was a student.
“During the service, all I could think about was running to my mate’s parents’ place and grabbing the biggest two knives he had and killing Father Ryan. I didn’t do it. I should have. The damage that bastard’s done to my life, my family, my friends and to everybody else. I feel guilty that I didn’t do it and he went on to abuse other boys,” Mr McDonald told the royal commission.
Outside Newcastle Courthouse Mr McDonald’s brother Tony told Sister Geatches their late mother, Phyllis McDonald, would have “turned in her grave to hear your evidence”.
Their mother was devout but phoned the Hamilton school and demanded Ryan be kept away from it after her son told her the priest had returned from Melbourne.
In the next week the commission will hear evidence from former Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone, who has already conceded the diocese’s response to survivors of Vince Ryan was “cold”. It will also hear evidence from current Bishop Bill Wright, and former diocese vicar-general Bill Burston.
The commission will also hear from three Marist Brothers – Alexis Turton, Michael Hill and Peter Carroll, after Mr Free said nine of 32 survivors of sexual abuse at the Hamilton and Maitland schools reported being abused by more than one Brother.
The hearing will run until September 9.